Last week I went to see Jordan Peele’s new breakout movie Get Out. I like many others was impressed by the depth of the film. When the lead character in the film Chris Washington, a black man, goes to visit his white girlfriend’s family he finds a horrifying situation–a seemingly harmless family subtly attempts to totally co-opt his agency. Through these exchanges, Chris is carefully allured to permanently lose his agency forever in what is called the “sunken place.” This is a place where he knows he exists, and he can see what is happening, but he doesn’t have control over his actions because someone else does.
As I processed the film, I remembered an occurrence several years ago while preaching a sermon at a church that will remain unnamed. As I preached, I began to carefully build a case for the nature of Jesus’ ministry. After I had laid out the evidence from scripture, I made the statement, “Jesus was a revolutionary.” The moment I said this, an older black sister expressed disgust. She got up and stormed out of service. It was reminiscent of Spike Lee X’s character shouting, “Get your hand out my pocket” and afterward busting out of the doors of the auditorium indignantly.
I remember spending a lot of thought energy on this incident. I thought to myself how could any black person have a problem with Jesus being a revolutionary? How could any oppressed persons take issue with Jesus coming to change things? I thought to myself this woman is not unique. There are many people who would find my comments offensive. They find it offensive because their Jesus certainly is not a dark-skinned Jesus. Why does this matter? Because especially in the light of the Romans phenotype context matters. Also in light of how white Jesus has been used to teach dark-skinned people whiteness itself is God history matters. Furthermore, their Jesus did not call Herod a fox, did not normalize the outcast, did not tell his disciples to sell their coats and buy swords, nor did he turn over tables in the temple and drive money changers with a whip, and his disciples were not accused of turning the world upside down. No, their Jesus only lifts up the status quo. Their Jesus did not mind the Roman occupation of his homeland; he did not mind the co-opting of the religious leaders and the temple, he did not mind the exploitation of women, the poor, sick, or elderly.
But, is it their fault they think like this or are they conditioned to think like this? The woman who angrily stormed out and others like her are the product of theological homogeneity that has existed for centuries. What I mean is privileged white men developed the corpus of theological interpretation of the scriptures and patristics. Further deepening the problem is the theology an enslaved person received was not meant to lead towards freedom but to maintain their oppression. The impact of this on the progeny of the enslaved lingers today. So, of course, for those still impacted by this stream of theological thought find a revolutionary Jesus offensive.
I struggled for a long time to find the language for this problem. Thanks to Jordan Peele’s new movie Get Out, I have found the language. The woman was suffering from Sunken Place Theology. In Get Out there is a scene where Chris Washington is hypnotized, and he goes into the sunken place and not to give away too much from the film, but eventually Chris is endanger of losing control of his identity and agency forever and forever residing in the sunken place.
In Sunken Place Theology, your theology is unhealthy. It does not seek to make you whole but rather hold you still. Your theology does not benefit you or your community. Your theology is pathological, and your theology was given to you by another community and was not developed by your own. Jesus said, “I have come so that you may have life and have it more abundantly.” Well, Sunken Place Theology brings death and brings it more aggressively. While Sunken Place Theology can bring about physical death and cultural death, physical death can kill one person at a certain time and place, but cultural death can kill many for generations.
Sunken Place Theology needs resistance at every turn. Everywhere we see it we need to resist it. The litmus test for it is simply asking the question: does this theological teaching bring further oppression to myself or my community or does it bring liberation? Even further, if one is the progeny of the enslaved, can we even ask if this teaching had worked to free my ancestors or keep them in chains? If the answer to this question is the latter, then break that tea cup and GET OUT of there with the quickness.
Lawrence Rodgers is a R3 Contributor
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